Magazine article The Spectator

We Are the Guilty Men Who Once Mocked Mr Hague and Are Now Having to Eat Our Words

Magazine article The Spectator

We Are the Guilty Men Who Once Mocked Mr Hague and Are Now Having to Eat Our Words

Article excerpt

Let this column serve as a confessional for all those columnists who once berated William Hague as a hopeless nincompoop but, now that the Tories are only 3 per cent behind in the polls, depict him as a man of vision and of substance. We must achieve some sort of catharsis. I say `we' because I too have erred, though it is for others to judge the gravity of my sin. On 11 November 1998 I wrote in the Daily Mail that Mr Hague was `young and inexperienced . . . [and] curiously detached'. It is true that in the same column I also described him as la very attractive personality and a firstclass intellect', but I do not really offer that in mitigation. In full possession of my faculties I had joined the pack of columnists, mostly Tories, who have dwelt on the alleged personality defects of the leader of Her Majesty's opposition.

Step forward Simon Heifer, my greatly esteemed colleague at the Mail. On 13 September 1997, three months after being elected leader of the Conservative party, Mr Hague was dismissed by Mr Heffer as `a monumentally awful' leader elected by `a bunch of halfwits'. On one occasion he had looked like `a child molester on a dayrelease scheme'. Mr Heffer's admiration for Mr Hague and his party did not increase with the passage of time. On 9 January 1999, in an article generally favourable to Tony Blair, Mr Heffer wrote that `the Tories stumble deeper into irrelevance'. As recently as 11 December 1999 the party was still `deranged'. So there was great rejoicing and some surprise when on 29 April of this year Mr Heffer rallied to `the new populist Hague'. Attacks on him as `an opportunist' had been `shameful'. `He may not succeed in winning the next election, but what he is doing is undoubtedly right for our beleaguered democracy.'

Richard Littlejohn, sage of the Sun, the floor is yours. You may never have flirted with Mr Blair, but you have had some harsh things to say about Mr Hague. On 24 February 1998 you wrote, `The Tories are a waste of space and by choosing William Hague have replaced Captain Mainwaring with Pike. Stupid boy.' But after the Tory leader's recent statements about crime and asylumseekers you generously found it in yourself to overlook the character deficiencies of the stupid boy. `William Hague is getting it right on crime, the pound and asylum.'

But you are not alone. We are not alone. Trevor Kavanagh, also of the Sun, has had some pretty withering things to say about Mr Hague, and he too has recently found it in his heart to write sympathetically of the man. So, come to that, has his paper, which represented the Tory leader as a dead parrot in October 1998 and now seems unsure whether or not it prefers him to Mr Blair. Then there are those who, if not actually rude about Mr Hague, have certainly had their dark nights of the soul. Our own much-cherished Bruce Anderson, who recently wrote in another place that a Tory victory was becoming daily `less unthinkable', could not help castigating Mr Hague when he sacked Viscount Cranborne as shadow leader in the Lords. (Lord Cranborne has himself been a nodal point of disaffection, as was the late Alan Clark.) And there is our dear friend Captain Gove of the Times, who has recently written that Mr Hague `is the spokesman for the genuinely marginalised in our society'. On 25 April 1998 this same Sir Galahad faced `a long journey back to relevance, let alone cower'.

I could go on, but there is little point. We know who we are. Some, of course, have not yet recanted. For example, the Times under its acting editor has barely tempered its former asperity towards Mr Hague, though I suspect it will if he grows more powerful. …

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